Sunday, February 8, 2015

Assisted Suicide in Canada


On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the ruling that criminalized assisted suicide in Canada. This is hardly surprising as Canada has become one of the most secularized countries in the world. What is surprising is that the vote was unanimous. Not one judge voted against assisted suicide.

It was very timely that the Archdiocese of Halifax had organized a half day session on the subject yesterday. The speakers were Sister Nualla Kenny, Larry Worthen, John O'Donnell, and Archbishop Mancini.

I was quite encouraged by the talks. I went, not really expecting to hear anything that would be encouraging, but I was wrong. Every speaker called upon us to stand witness to our faith on this issue, not to be intimidated by the law or by the culture. None of them were optimistic that we could change the law or change the prevailing attitude in our country, but they all stressed the fact that this is something we need to stand up for even though we are in the minority.

Sister Nualla Kenny, a Sister of Charity, who is also a pediatrician and now a professor of ethics at Dalhousie University has vast experience in the medical field on these life issues. For ten years, she was the CEO of the IWK Children's Hospital here in Halifax. Having come through her own cancer battle in the past four to five years, she now has the personal experience of facing death and resolving a whole lot of issues in that area. What I recall most from her talk was the differentiation she made between pain and suffering. From her experience, almost all pain can be alleviated. For instance, a patient may go to a doctor because of chest pain and the doctor can treat him for a heart condition. However, to whom can you take your broken heart? 

Kenny said that, in this issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia, what we have are people who don`t have faith and they are trying to overcome their situations of suffering by dealing with it physically. What is missing for them is the spiritual medicine which is provided by faith. Therefore we see a poll that says 84% of Canadians support the legalization of assisted suicide precisely because they are trying to eliminate the suffering that either they or their loved ones experience. In Sister Nualla's experience, the majority of these sufferings are relational; in other words, people suffer because of broken or dysfunctional relationships in their lives or a complete lack of relationships.

Larry Worthen is a lawyer and in the past year, has been asked to be the national director for the Canadian Christian Doctors and Dentists association. Larry is married to a general practitioner and he also has a son in medical school. His emphasis was that we need to protect our doctors now, because they are the vulnerable ones. As he said, if the state curtails conscience protection in Canada, we will have the situation where Christian doctors will be unable to practise, and then what will become of services such as palliative care?  Those medical services which are based on Christian principles that respect all life will be undermined and eroded.

John O'Donnell is the national director of L'Arche communities. These are homes around the world, that were founded by Jean Vanier fifty years ago. From one small house in France, the organization now encompasses over 60 homes for adults who suffer from mental handicaps. With the aging of L'Arche, they are now dealing with the palliative care of many of their residents. John spoke of the dignity of life for disabled persons, and how their physical and mental limitations do not limit their emotional and spiritual lives. On the contrary, such individuals often lead the way in what Jean Vanier called the "irreversible decision to love".

Archbishop Anthony Mancini wrapped up the day with a short summation. This is the first time I have heard the archbishop speak with great force and conviction. I wondered if this came from feeling that he was with a group that completely supported what he had to say. This archbishop is not ideological, he is a very down-to-earth man, and he stated right away that this law will not be overturned. In the face of such secularism, he said that we must rise up as the early Christians who lived their lives in service for others. Their example was what brought about the conversion of many pagans.

Today after Mass, my husband and I were speaking with Father Owen Connolly who has been a chaplain at the hospital for many years. Father Owen's homily also spoke of how we must stand up and push back against this secularism. But rather than shout attacks from the sidelines, he said we must get in there and do the dirty work of charity. In other words, we need to be setting up hospices where we care for the sick and disabled, and that work will be the witness to a culture that has lost its way.

We may not be risking our physical lives as the early Christians did, but we will be risking scorn and derision if we begin to act in this way. But what is there left to do? 

It is not lost on me that, just on Friday, a friend called to let me know that he has been diagnosed with ALS and his health is deteriorating rapidly. ALS must be one of the most horrific diseases one can be afflicted with. Both Nick and I feel a personal call to be of some help to Dan in the days to come. I first became acquainted with Dan through pro-life work in the area of abortion, and now we are entering the area of Christian dying. It is surprising how the theoretical and the practical come together when one least expects it.









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